Echoes of a Fractured Hologram

There’s been a curious development in modern music characterised by the offset retro leanings of vaporwave and its multiple offshoots. A very specific sense of wistful melancholy is distilled into a particular musical form, a single line from a piece of 80s Musak slowed down, distorted and repeated until it forms something redolent of a suspended, repeated mutation of the past. You might find yourself wandering into a computer generated representation of an 80s shopping mall, or what we imagine such a place would be like, empty and inhuman save for the same line of cheesy pop music repeating itself infinitely, digitally enshrined, protected from degradation but degrading through the very act of repetition into an audible rhythm indistinguishable from your own heartbeat. It is the music of a suspended degraded future, where the spectres of gothic fiction are replaced by flickering holograms, and, in the words of David Byrne, nothing ever happens.

Clarence Clarity’s music explores similar territory, insomuch as he re-appropriates the sounds of pop, R&B, soul, electronic music and everything in between and repeats it, fractures it and builds it into a digital cathedral of maximalism and broken down realities. His last album, No Now encapsulated this fever dream of images appropriated again and again before being twisted and distorted, a portrait of the postmodern condition as a sense that there is No Now. The multilayered production and strange glitched mutations of pop music found there presented however a distinctly futurist statement amid a time where the mainstream places all its bets on the industry of nostalgia and recreation. The version of pop music found here was a thrillingly unique and bold fusing of multiplicities that pushed beyond the hologram, fracturing it and hacking the mall systems to play all music at the same time. 

On Think:Peace , his new album, CC runs further with this while at the same time distilling the maximalist ambitions down to a series of often more contained pop tunes. The climax of the album in many ways is a piece called Same?. If through the course of the album we find ourselves wandering through the empty shopping mall, finding it breaking apar around us, trying to reach somewhere beyond a sense of digitised ironic detachment, this track ties directly into an earlier one, titled Naysayer, Magick Obeyer, on which notably he sings “make me feel like you feel good” [the implications of this, that the reality of the situation no longer matter, the illusion is more important, a line about the maintaining of illusion in lieu of the resignation of searching for real experience]. This exploration of the importance of illusion returns on Same? a mind-bending piece of music that starts in a different place but quickly morphs over its run-time to become a repeat of the earlier song, the album becoming a circular repetition of appeals to illusion.

Think:Peace is one of the most current, cutting-edge and thought-provoking pop albums from one of its most unique underground voices. It is no longer a digital cathedral, but the fractured memories of a hologram compiled into a new form, something that rather than simply repeating the sounds of he past creates a hyper-realised image of them and mutates them into new forms, echoes from the shopping mall of the past gathering into a symphony of mechanised harmony, warped, spiralling into an uncertain future. This is a journey into the tenuous links between illusions, a demonstration that pop music can be anything but shallow, indeed can be an exploration of shallowness in the most interesting way possible. 


Aphex Twin Collaps[e][ing] again

Aphex Twin’s latest EP, titled Collapse is the most forward thinking release from him since the 2001 two-disc monster Drukqs. Since Richard D James’s concrete return to the Aphex Twin name back in 2014, it’s been nice to hear him back creating the sounds he’s known for, but it’s all been lacking something of the crackling psychedelic energy much of his groundbreaking and disruptive early material exhibited. 

Aphex Twin was always connected both to a blind playfulness of aesthetic and a certain relishing of breakdown. Increasingly through his 90s output the beats became more fractured, more hellish, more difficult to pin down, and even more difficult to dance to. By the time we got to Drukqs territory we were staring out at a beautifully broken, Ballardian landscape of cybernetic distortion and yelped hints of humanity lurking behind jagged rhythmic perversions of form. The link was created between the John Cage-esque prepared piano compositions and some of James’s most minimal pieces yet, with the hyper-stimulation and abrasive acceleration of the senses found as much in many of the track titles as the dense and uncompromising audio barrage of the more intimidating tracks. Not only were these presented on the same album, but one led directly into the other, flipping perception on its head and compiling the shear of atmospheres into a distinctly psychedelic breakdown of audible reality.

This game of contradictions is one RDJ played masterfully, creating both some of the most beautiful slices of electronic music out there in tracks like Alberto Balsam and Xtal, as well as some of the most abrasive (Ventolin and Come to Daddy) under the same name. Contradiction presented itself in the confounding of taste and expectation in the visuals, the twisting of bling era hip-hop aesthetics in the Windowlicker video and his many other collaborations with Chris Cunningham, many of which proved simultaneously nightmarish and hilarious in their absurdly disturbing imagery.

Contradiction, disruption, breakdown.. collapse? This latest EP seems to bring back the element of post-apocalyptic experimental abandon much of his post-comeback material seemed to be lacking. The 5 tracks on Collapse contain some of the most complex, layered Aphex Twin material in quite some time, and incorporate a level of electronic glitch and distorted tone that I was surprised not to hear in his more recent work before now. Taking the dense layers of electronic sound he pioneered as a producer and transplanting a digital virus into their heart, in the first track alone the EP folds the sonic landscape into itself, layer upon layer, to coalesce into a marvellously exciting and driving piece of experimental electronica only increasing in psychedelic intensity when viewed alongside the track’s video, a literal collapsing of digitally projected architecture, landscape, and unsurprisingly Richard D James’s own face.

What this EP achieves is a sound that suddenly retains something current, a return to a bold re-invention of electronic sound and a folding, a decay, of sound into new possibilities. It’s the first Aphex Twin release in quite some time that synthesises and combines contradictory and multifaceted elements in the manner of his best work, lurching from sound to sound in an unimpeded rampage of sonic warfare upon tradition and sensibility that almost reads as a middle finger to the prudes and conservatives who might turn their noses up and sniff at the “cult of ugliness”. At the heart of a digital storm of garbled wavelengths, compressed voices and the intricately controlled chaos of chattering and sputtering beats, such comfortably expressed terms of aesthetic absolutes are shorn of meaning.